Amma, The Hugging Saint
"The power of Love is infinite. In true Love, one goes beyond the body, mind and all fears. Love is the breath of the soul. It is our life force. Pure, innocent Love makes everything possible. When your heart is filled with the pure energy of Love, even the most impossible task becomes as easy as picking up a flower. The more Love you give, the more divinity is expressed within you. Just as water from a perennial spring never dries up no matter how much water we draw from it, the more Love we give, the more it increases. Life and Love are not two. Pure Love can accomplish anything. Love is the ambrosia of life. If there is True Love, nothing else is needed." - Amma, the Hugging Saint
About this text
Despite of my criticism, I have a lot of respect and appreciation to Amma. I wish to thank and bow to her in deep respect.
Note: The term "awakening" in this text has been used to describe a specific event on the spiritual path. Here awakening refers to the first irreversible spiritual insight. After this attainment, there are several other stages. See links below this text for sources on this.
I met Amma for the first time in 2003. Since then I have met her many times in darshan (about several dozen times), have joined her programs in Finland and Germany, and have spent 2½ months altogether in her ashram in Kerala India, on two separate occasions in 2009 and 2015. I've spent roughly 100-200 hours in her physical presence during this time, have heard her giving speeches, giving darshans (hugs), blessing food and seen her meditating. I've also received a mantra from her back in 2006 and have learned IAM-meditation taught by her organisation. I have also ordered a couple of pujas (fire rituals) from her organisation's services to help me solve some specific problems a few years ago.
To me Ammachi has sort of been like a spiritual aunt who has been there to guide and support me, along with my own parents (masters) that I've worked with during the last decade and many lives before this one. I've received many blessings from her and seen visions of her and other masters together in meditation. I have also asked her questions in person during darshan. I have at times wondered if I should follow her as my guru and even though I sometimes really wanted to, it never happened. I felt that she always welcomed me to meet her but encouraged me to follow my own path and karmic links with other masters and their teachings instead. My association with her has lasted for over 12 years, pretty much the same time I have pursued the spiritual path.
Amma's status and her actions
Ammachi is the only spiritual master, or a mahasiddha, that I have physically met. And I have met quite a few teachers and masters from many traditions. To me she is a living buddha who has no arising of feeling and no cessation of perception. I have spent quite a bit of time with other mahasiddhas in non-physical form, practicing tantric guru yoga with them, so I feel I have a pretty clear idea what makes or what doesn't make one a living buddha.
Amma's actions speak for themselves. Last November in 2015 she sat down giving hugs continuously for 26 hours. This was reported at the Facebook group of her ashram. An ordinary person or even a very experienced yogi would not be able to do this because the energetic charge would be too great to handle. Meeting, hugging and conversing with perhaps a few thousand people one-by-one during one day is extra-ordinary. This is something that she does on regular basis all over the world. To me this is a clear sign of her being a master. This is completely different than speaking to large crowds which is what many popular gurus do. Also charity work, even of great scale, would not solely indicate the mastership of a teacher. But charity work on vast scale is something that Amma has initiated in addition to her meeting over 35 million people one by one. This is something that hasn't been achieved by ordinary people or by charlatans.
There are many miraculous stories of Amma but since I have personally never seen her do any supernatural miracles I do not wish to narrate these here. On the other hand, I have never seen anyone leave her arms looking as fearful or confused as they came, so again to me this, transforming the minds of people in just a few short seconds, is a greater miracle than demonstrating siddhis, special powers.
One of the things I have critisized about hindu gurus and their teachings in general, is that usually their verbal teachings are vague and non-specific. Hindu gurus speak about "enlightenment", "awakening", "samadhi" and many such things but do not clarify these things in a way that would be understandable for their followers and the world society. This is also the case with Amma's verbal teachings.
"Dharma" or nondual spirituality has many definitions but if we are talking about what "spirituality" actually is, there is no other way to define it than as experience-based nondualism. Nondualism means seeing through the dualistic delusion of one's sense of self. This takes place in the mind.
It has been said that Amma's mission is in reinstating moral values, in addition to being an example of selflessness and love herself. I do not know if Amma would agree to this definition of her mission but in case she would, it should be questioned whether her mission of reinstating moral values is actually the sort of nondualistic spirituality and enlightenment that she often talks about. Being honest, sincere, kind and loving is of course better than being deceitful and hateful. Also doing good actions and charity is much better than doing bad things or just thinking of oneself over others. However, one can do good actions and be sort of loving while being deluded by one's sense of self. These things get easily mixed up.
It is the sense of self in the mind of man which creates dualistic positioning between "me and them" or between "me and my guru". As teachings of Amma do not clarify this point and do not clearly point to the self-delusion imprinted in the mind of her many followers, which would help this illusion to vaporize, her followers stay bound by this dualistic chain. Considering how devoted many are to her, this is very unfortunate, I feel. Because of this simple flaw, people can never really understand her. As people stay fixed in the idea that they exist as separate entities, they can never really "get" Amma, who is without a self.
I once asked Ammachi in person, that in case me and my family moved to her ashram, could I as my volunteer work, guide people to awaken from their self-delusion through self-inquiry (skt. atma vichara). "We don't do such practices here" was her reply. I didn't know what to expect but still after time this seems strange to me.
It has been said by her that her devotees are "rusty steel" meaning perhaps something along the lines that they are not ready or fit to see through their self-delusion and should stick with the very basics. It has also been said by buddhist lamas that all people are not ready for emptiness teachings which in other words means seeing through the illusion of self. I agree with this to the extent that I don't think everyone is fit to awaken. But many are. So mostly I disagree on this point.
Seeing through the illusion of self and becoming awakened are the very basics of nondual spirituality. How could awakening possibly be something wrong, dangerous or undesired because the selfless nature is our true nature?
Based on my experience as a direct pointing teacher, I'd say that there are many people out there who are ready and fit for aiming directly at the central spoke of self-delusion. It makes no sense to decline this instruction from people, whether they are Amma's followers or others. The same problem is found in vajrayana buddhism. I have heard Amma speak of the "mistaken identity" and "awakening" but regarding this point, her direct pointing instructions are so scattered among long talks of Indian folklore, hindu classics and jokes that it is close to impossible for people to apply them in practice and actually get awakened.
Amma teaches tantric practices, like mantras, breathing practices and visualisation. These practices aim specifically for purification of mind. This is often called "gradual enlightenment". These practices are not meant to generate awakening and only rarely and by chance they generate "sudden awakening". The great majority of people who do mind purification practices, don't get awakened because the practices are not designed to do that. The problem with this is that it is not possible to finish purification of the mind (gradual enlightenment) without sudden awakening. This is because the mind and it's mechanisms are the same with all men. This is a flaw in Amma's teachings, as well as most other hindu gurus. This problem is found in most hindu teachings and to an extent also in tantric buddhism which is very unfortunate.
So, with Amma, it is a strange mixture. The greatest master I've ever (physically) met surrounded by a huge mass of followers who constantly cultivate the selfless state of awareness through devotional practice but do not have the simplest instructions in consciously recognising their natural state. For this reason people keep seeking. It is the self or "me" who seeks so the situation is problematic.
I admit my inability to understand this. I can only assume that she knows what she is doing but at the same time I cannot help seeing these fundamental flaws in her teaching, as anyone with some understaning of jnana yoga or buddhist vipashyana meditation would. Fortunately, it has also been told by many people that Amma has somehow guided them to more fitting teachers and teachings.
Years with Amma
In Amma's presence, it is common for people to say things like, "Her energy is huge!", "I am embraced by her love!", "She is my Mother!" or something like that. People are very impressed by her. And I was too because I've kept going back to see her. I've heard buddhist practitioners tell about the same wow-factor of their own lamas.
This wow-factor happens both because of the powerful spiritual energy of the teacher but mainly because of the messy-ness of the mind (which translates to the energy body) of the person himself. It is because of the karmic grooves installed in the mind of a person why the presence of a particular teacher or a guru is felt to be powerful. The guru's energy of utmost spiritual clarity keeps meeting with the karmic knots while creating powerful sensations. Guru Yoga was like that for me for several years. But this changes when karmic patterns become purified. When one works with a guru for years the experience of his or her presence changes and neutralises because your own mind changes, becomes clearer.
For some time now, Amma's darshans have not had that powerful/energy/love/wow!-effect to me anymore. Instead what happens is that if one is in connection with a master like Amma or some other, the change happens in the clarity of the conscious experience and not in the energies of the bodymind. This is the change between the higher bhumis or grounds which are momentarily experienced because of the uplifting effect of the master's presence.
All in all
All in all, despite of the problems that I see in Amma's teaching, I have great respect for her. In this time there is no other physical guru whose work is as vast, as Amma's. She has offered her arms to a huge number of people and has helped them, encouraging those who are sick, abused, abandoned and so on. She surely embodies love and clarity that we all can draw inspiration from.
Thank you for reading,
- Kim Katami, 4/2016.
Links and sources
- Guidance to Awakening: http://www.en.openheart.fi/101
- Here is how to become awakened: http://www.en.openheart.fi/113
- Awake! - freee ebook: http://www.en.openheart.fi/114
- Bhumi Study Series, Part 3, Hindu gurus, including Amma: http://openheartopenheart.blogspot.fi/2016/02/bhumi-study-series-part-3-hindu-gurus.html
- Stages of spiritual